Learning to swim in later life
Whether it’s simply because you never learned to swim as a child, have a phobia of the water, or had an unpleasant experience learning to swim previously, it is never too late to learn to swim, no matter how old you are. Let’s take a look at exactly how to go about learning how to swim later in life.
Take your time
There are no shortcuts in learning how to swim later in life, so be prepared once you start to take your time and don’t let yourself be defeated by minor setbacks. It’s important to ensure that you get the basics of learning to swim right once you begin, as it’ll be hard to unlearn any bad habits you develop at the start (which may hold you back from being the best swimmer you can be later on). For this reason, the first thing to bear in mind is to take it slow and allow yourself time to achieve this goal.
Work on breath control
Before even dipping your toes in a pool, you first need to practice holding and controlling your breath. It may seem like a funny thing to do, but try holding your breath first out of water, focusing on getting as much air in your lungs rather than holding your breath for a long time. Once you feel comfortable filling your lungs to their maximum capacity, try holding your breath underwater in the bath, for example. However, make sure you don’t do this while alone: it’s always best to have someone there to help you if you experience any problems.
Getting in and out of the water
Once you’re ready to head to an actual pool, consider how you’ll get in and out of the water. Even before arriving at the place where you’ll be first trying to learn to swim, feeling prepared will help you to manage any anxiety around getting in the water for the first time. Most people find it easiest to get in using a ladder at the side of the pool, but for some people this can feel a bit scary as it removes you from the edge of the pool, which may be more comforting to be able to hold on to.
In this case, try sitting on the edge of the shallow end of the pool with your legs dangling in the water and gently lowering yourself in, perhaps with the assistance of someone already in the water. The first time you try getting in the pool, don’t push yourself to try actually swimming: instead, just get used to the feeling of being in the water and try out the breathing exercises you’ve already practiced at home. Getting in the water is a big first step, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get any further than that!
Start by floating on your back
When you feel ready to try being in the water without your feet on the bottom of the pool, it’s time to start trying to float. The best way to begin is by floating on your back with your arms and legs spread out like a starfish. Having someone with you who can support you under your back with a hand or two, or just stand nearby to help you should you need them, is a good idea. By keeping yourself afloat like this with your ears below the water, but still able to breath normally, you’ll get your body used to the sensation of being almost fully submerged without having to worry about breathing.
Move onto backstroke
Now that you’re successfully floating on your back without any assistance, you can start actually swimming! Begin by using a float held behind your head with your arms outstretched, and kick off from the side of the pool to propel yourself backwards. Continue kicking your legs to keep up the momentum and repeat, each time trying to go a few meters further. Eventually, you’ll feel confident enough to leave the float behind and use your arms to do the backstroke.
Once you’ve mastered this, you can move on to practicing other strokes, with breaststroke being a good next step. You may also be just as comfortable using a doggy paddle as a beginner’s stroke. Whichever way you do it, keep practicing and allow yourself to be assisted when necessary from anyone willing to help. Good luck!
[Photo by jarmoluk]